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The Humane Society of the United States Calls for New Ordinances to Protect Biloxi Colony Cat Caretakers

The following is a statement from Lydia Sattler, Mississippi state director for The Humane Society of the United States, on a recent sentencing of 78-year-old Dawn Summers, a caregiver of a free-roaming cat colony in her community in Biloxi, Miss. who was charged with exceeding a cat ownership limit ordinance, and sentenced to 100 hours of community service:

“The recent sentencing of Dawn Summers to 100 hours of community service for feeding a colony of free-roaming cats highlights the need for municipalities to update outmoded ordinances. Ms. Summers, a caregiver of a colony of cats in her community, was charged with exceeding a cat ownership limit law imposed by Biloxi ordinance, and found guilty. Ms. Summers had been caring for these cats as part of a trap-neuter-return program sanctioned by the Humane Society of South Mississippi.   

The city of Biloxi and the Humane Society of South Mississippi signed a Memorandum of Understanding, adopted by City Council on August 18, 2009, which states that representatives of the Humane Society are exempt from violations of the pet limit ordinance. The MOU goes even further, stating that the City of Biloxi understands and has considered that ‘Other methods of controlling feral cats, such as trap and kill or trap and relocate, have proven to be ineffective’ and ‘[Trap, Neuter, Return] is the only effective long-term solution to the feral cat problem.’ This MOU, while well intentioned, is clearly not enough to protect free-roaming cats and their caregivers. Instead, a new city ordinance is necessary to explicitly exempt individuals like Ms. Summers who are undertaking sanctioned trap-neuter-return programs.

Trap-neuter-return and other community cat programs should have a place in municipal ordinances to protect animals, caregivers and involved organizations. At minimum, exemptions should be added to currently applicable ordinances to protect those citizens who are working responsibly to provide care and sterilization of community cats.

More than 1,640 organizations and tens of thousands of individuals manage cat colonies in the United States and Canada, and they constitute a large and indispensable volunteer labor force to reduce the numbers of cats outdoors. The outdated strategies of trapping and killing feral cats, and punishing cat caregivers, are simply inhumane and ineffective, since they don’t address the sources of the problem. And if these punitive actions are not corrected, we will risk losing overnight the enormous investments in cat management made by TNR practitioners and cat lovers, since they would never participate in a round-up and kill approach.” 

Media Contact: Raúl Arce-Contreras; 301-721-6440; rcontreras@humanesociety.org

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